Soccer as Acceptance

The transformational power of soccer is something that’s been touched on before in the brief life of this space. And as Turkey continues its stunning barge through Euro 2008, we have another example.

On Wednesday, the upstart Turks (FIFA world ranking: 20) will take on mighty Germany (FIFA world ranking: 5) in the semis. Needless to say, Germany is the prohibitive favorite, but then again so was the Czech Republic (FIFA world ranking: 6), whom Turkey defeated in Group A play, and Croatia (FIFA world ranking: 17), whom Turkey defeated in the quarterfinals.

This would be significant enough for the improbability of it all, but when set against the backdrop of Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union, the story becomes even more compelling.

Much of the resistance to Turkey’s admission to the EU revolves around the idea that the Turks aren’t sufficiently European in terms of culture, democratic ideals, and human rights. In other words, it’s mostly about assimilation and adopting the hallmarks of modern society. As well, until the Turks recognize the sovereignty of Cyprus, they’re probably not going to be granted accession to the EU.

What can help Turkey, though, is striking more of an accord with traditional Europe. As improbable as it sounds, soccer can do that. In fact, after Turkey’s victory over the Czech Republic, Turkish fans began bellowing chants of, “Europe, Europe, hear our voice!”

As the Abu Dhabi’s the National reports, the juxtapositions aren’t lost on Turkish pols. Comments by Turkey’s PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

“Just like our national team is an indispensable part of the colour, the excitement and the possibilities of the European Championship, Turkish membership will have a big and positive effect on the EU.”

From the American perspective, this probably strains credulity. Could a victory in a soccer tournament actually hasten a political process that’s been in the works for more than 20 years? Yes.

Don’t underestimate the cultural primacy of European football. It’s something that appeals beyond words to the very people–rank-and-file Western Europeans–who oppose Turkey’s entrance into the EU. In the hearts and minds of those people, defeating European powers on the pitch matters perhaps just as much as a commitment to modernity.

Though the Turkish team has experienced similar levels of success in the past, never before have those success occurred at such a critical time and never before have those successes had the strong whiff of “political audition.”

In a very real way, the Turks are competing for more than just a soccer championship.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Soccer as Acceptance

  1. Pingback: Turkey vs. Germany « Spolitical

  2. This is probably the best England shirt ever made. The feel to the shirt is really smooth; it’s also very light and looks very nice. I bought this shirt because it looks nice and the name and number you can have on it is silver which is the only international shirt with silver writing but is rivalled by Italy’s gold writing. But the shirt is going to be used for the world cup 2010 so you might aswell get it now that it is only 30-35.

  3. Don’t hold it in! Tell us more!

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